B2B sales professionals will be increasingly displaced by search engines and social networks unless they can demonstrate value to customers with empathy, storytelling mastery and a focus on advocacy, according to startup advisor Jill Rowley.
Speaking at the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) in Toronto this week, the former sales leader at Eloqua urged her colleagues to abandon “smile and dial” or “pitch and pounce” techniques in favor of using social networks to learn about buyers and engage with them in a more authentic way.
“(Buyers) are not allergic to sales people, but they’re allergic to being sold,” she said. “They want insight, knowledge and context around their situation. Someone who can solve a business problem and achieve business outcomes.”
This may be a familiar refrain to some sales professionals but recent research from DiscoverOrg backs Rowley up. In “30 Ways To Get Inside The Mind Of Your Target Buyer,” the sales intelligence firm surveyed more than 230 business professionals to assess their opinions of those selling to them. The results showed only about half, or 54 per cent of sales pros can clearly explain how their solution positively impacts a customer’s business.
“Buyers don’t just seek information to aid a strategic decision; they amass information that helps them justify their preconceived ideas of strategic value,” the report said. “In other words, your product’s strategic value comprises the reasons and arguments buyers give to senior management and others in the company as to why the product should be purchased.”
Of course, the first step is getting the buyer’s attention at all. Rowley noted that the traditional approach of ongoing calls and e-mails is being greeted by “ignore/delete” by many buyers. Though some reps may still be unsure about how to use social media to forge the right connections, Rowley offered some personal examples.
In an attempt to meet Marketo CEO Steve Lucas, for instance, Rowley said she read a LinkedIn post he wrote about his first 100 days in the role. She posted a comment that agreed with him, echoed his language and noted that she was thinking of developing a product that addressed an issue he had raised.
That was only the first step, however. By the time she met Lucas for breakfast, Rowley had done enough digging to learn that he has two kids, does CrossFit and has Type 1 diabetes.
“When we met for breakfast, I was shocked at what he was ordering. I said,’Is that good for your diabetes?’” she recalled. Although there’s a risk of crossing a line, Rowley admitted, sales professionals need to bring as much knowledge with them about a buyer to the table as possible — including details about the things that make them human.
In a status update on her own LinkedIn feed, meanwhile, Rowley shared a link to a report from Forrester analyst Mary Shea. Among those who gave it a “like” was Karen Steele, a group vice-president at Marketo. That helped Rowley understand what kind of content she should share with Steele directly later on.
“That digital exhaust, the digital footprints that she’s leaving — I’m observing, and learning and responding,” she said.
While reps need to continually develop themselves, Rowley said organizations also need to invest in sales enablement teams and resources that foster digital communication. They also need to make sure that digital ways to communicating are driven at all levels of the team.
“You cannot have 2.0 sales people reporting into 1.0 sales managers,” she said.
CIX 2017 wrapped up on Wednesday.